THE MINISTER – Today I’m happy to welcome a delegation from the Syrian National Council under the chairmanship of Mr Burhan Ghalioun, with whom I made initial contact on 10 October.
First of all it’s an opportunity for me to express France’s solidarity with the Syrian people, who are fighting an extraordinarily brave battle in the face of an ever more barbaric crackdown. My thoughts go especially to the people of Homs, who are the victims of that crackdown, and – I repeat – all those who are suffering today.
I’m delighted to see that the Syrian National Council is showing itself to be representative, because it’s met my Italian, German, Russian, British and Turkish colleagues. Mr Chairman, I believe you met the PSC, the Political and Security Committee, in Brussels. You’re in permanent dialogue with the Arab League. For us, the Syrian National Council is a special interlocutor.
I’d like to welcome its determination to bring together all Syrian strands of opinion and the respect it has expressed for all the minorities who make up Syria. So we’re standing by them. (…)
A military option isn’t on the agenda; it hasn’t been examined and I didn’t examine it with the Turkish authorities, contrary to persistent rumours during my visit to Ankara and Istanbul.
We will therefore continue to help the Syrian National Council through political action; we’ll remain in permanent contact with its members.
Furthermore, at the request of the Syrian National Council, we will examine, particularly with our EU partners, the possibility of launching humanitarian initiatives to alleviate the considerable suffering of the population. Do we need to establish humanitarian corridors or humanitarian zones? That’s what we’re going to look at.
I asked the EU to put this on the agenda of our next meeting.
I wanted to express to you our admiration for your courage since you are, contrary to allegations here and there, fighting with your bare hands and you can count on our solidarity. It may take a long time, but I don’t have any doubt about the outcome; your struggle for freedom will succeed.
Q. – Does this meeting mean France recognizes the Syrian National Council? Is France in favour of establishing a buffer zone in the north of the country which could be enforced by Turkey? What would be the conditions for establishing such a buffer zone to protect the population?
THE MINISTER – As I said, we see the Syrian National Council as an interlocutor, the legitimate interlocutor with which we want to continue working. We are keeping a close eye on how it is being organized – as inclusively as possible – and we’ll be working with the Arab League and all of our allies on the issue of more formal recognition. As for the buffer zone, as I said, the military option is not on the agenda and, despite certain persistent rumours, I did not mention it. Whether there might be a humanitarian aspect in zones that could be secured to protect the population is an issue that has to be studied. As I said, the EU, the Arab League and all those who support the actions of the Syrian people can look at this.
Q. – What about the role played by the Free Syrian Army, the support France could offer it, and the unity of the Syrian opposition?
THE MINISTER – From the beginning of this crisis, we have paid tribute to the courage of the Syrian people, who have rejected violence and an armed response to the regime’s crackdown. I think it is necessary to stick to that position, because an armed response could spark a civil war, which would be a worse situation for the country.
Q. – What about the fact that this peaceful response could complicate the position of the Syrian opposition?
THE MINISTER – It’s up to the Syrian opposition to answer that question./.